Flying Colorado’s hip-hop flag at South By Southwest

Question, left, and El Brinosaurus, of Denver hip-hop group High Five, performed as part of the Colorado Music Party on Wednesday at the 512 in Austin, Texas, during South By Southwest. (Quentin Young)
Question, left, and El Brinosaurus, of Denver hip-hop group High Five, performed as part of the Colorado Music Party on Wednesday at the 512 in Austin, Texas, during South By Southwest. (Quentin Young)

By Quentin Young

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Hip-hop artists in Colorado sometimes feel as if they don’t get the respect they deserve. But on Wednesday in Austin, at least, they had the spotlight.

From before noon until after midnight, more than a dozen hip-hop acts performed on the rooftop of the 512, a venue on Sixth Street that’s at the heart of this week’s South By Southwest Music Festival.

Their shows were presented as part of the Colorado Music Party, a five-day showcase of Mile High music that was organized by the Fort Collins-based nonprofit organization SpokesBUZZ.

Portions of the party are themed — a Fort Collins focus is planned for Friday, a Boulder mini-showcase for Saturday.

But Wednesday was all about hip-hop.

The lineup included Palace Brands, Wandering Monks, Wasteland Hop, JiM ChieF, Wheelchair Sports Camp, SarCas$t, Travellers Music, Babah Fly, Kind Dub, Kitty Crimes,, CRL CRRLL and The FAMM.”

A highlight of the day was Denver-based High Five, and, by the end of their afternoon set, the audience was chanting for more. Question, one of the group’s MCs, is optimistic about the hip-hop scene back in Denver, even if he sees plenty of room for growth.

“I think it’s untapped,” he said. “There’s a lot of local talent.”

There’s also an audience for hip-hop in Colorado, he said, but the means for supporting the genre have yet to fully develop.

Rock and bluegrass events and venues are well established in Colorado, and industry professionals have long experience in those genres. Fans and artists know where to go when they want to hear cranked guitars or banjo pickin’. Hip-hop’s different.

“I feel like we’re creating the scene,” said El Brinosaurus, also of High Five. “We have to hustle for our shows.”

3Two, a Denver rapper who performed at the Colorado Music Party, has doubts about the scene’s potential. He’s found that many industry professionals aren’t into hip-hop or are ignorant of the genre, he said. And potential fans harbor misconceptions.

“A lot of them see Colorado hip-hop as amateur,” he said, adding that the caliber of local artists warrants more support. “It’s frustrating when friends of mine who are talented have to go perform in front of 20 people.”

Some Colorado hip-hop artists decide they must relocate to succeed. BLKHRTS, one of Denver’s most promising hip-hop acts, moved to Los Angeles last year. 3Two understands why. Asked if he’d consider doing the same, he said, “Quite possibly.”

Dawn Duncan, who operates the Fort Collins-based music services company Yellowbright and works with several Colorado hip-hop artists, including 3Two, has a slightly different view of the scene.

“You don’t have to move,” she said. “But you do have to move around.”

This means literally moving, as in touring to other markets, but also being creative in promoting one’s music. She noted that another artist she works with, Fort Collins rapper Qbala, was using guerrilla tactics in humid Austin by packaging water bottles with her music and selling it on Sixth Street.

Colorado hip-hop often has an “inspired,” or positive, quality to it, she said, which helps it connect to Mile High audiences. And hip-hop at its core, as a form of raw poetry, aligns with the vibe in Colorado, she said.

“We like things we can relate to,” she said. “We like real people, honesty, and hip-hop gives you that.”

But she understands the challenges for artists.

“We’ve never been known as a hip-hop state,” she said. “They’re trying very hard to rise out of the underground.”

El Brinosaurus has every intention to do that. In fact, he envisions the Colorado hip-hop scene growing to Texas-size proportions.

“Let’s build this empire,” he said. “Let’s be the next Austin.”



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